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Traveling, living, loving, exploring and trying to make some semblance of sense out of this crazy world.  


Sunday, November 9, 2014

Back in the Field

First things first-

Thanks so much to Nicholas Kurland for taking an active role in trail work around the area, and to Chris Egress and Tyler Hall for donating two bags of canned goods during our last Trail Daze event, food donations for the local family that lives on $1000 per month that we are trying, in our own small way, to help. These folks keep an eye on one of the most popular crags in the area, and this is just one way we can say thank you.

This is also a cease-fire on the Access Fund.

When they do something worth noting in the local area, I let you know.

Til then, nuff said.

Spent Friday night with grandchildren and their parents afterr a hundred mile drive through insane rush-hour traffic.

Rose early and loaded gear, headed off into the Potomac Highlands and spent Saturday night camped in the Beast, with the company of my lovely wife for a change, after an incredible day hiking the North Fork Trail and an evening spent with some old friends in the shadow of Eagle Rock.

We rose early and rolled to our gear cache, then made our way to the canyon as the first churchgoers stirred. Rumbling off the main drag, we found a parking spot near the project, where I quickly assembled the tools to cook pancakes, crepes, and eggs in the cold morning shadows at the west end of the Main Arch of the Entrance Walls.

Curious eyes stared from passing cars as we spread raspberry preserves, rolled tortillas and downed French-pressed French roast (French squared coffee, you might say).

The single burner Coleman was still cooling when a white pickup and two cars pulled in to disgorge our friends Mike, Kyle, Nick, Travis, Joe, and several more, all bound for a project and great lines on the Long Branch Wall in the lower canyon.

We talked about Franklin access, routes on the wall above, the imminent release of the guidebook and the other crags of the canyon, before we made our good-byes and they were off to the races and new routing, while I turned to the task at hand.

Up along the trail, ferns still peeking green and moss glowing between the autumn leaves despite several recent cold snaps, sunlight slanting in from the south as I weave between dead falls and ledges on the plateau.

I loop the old tree on the cliff's edge with the ease of practice and think that soon, very soon, I will not have to make this hike to reach the line.  I rest a hand on the rough bark and silently thank the old pine for staying deeply rooted and alive long enough for me to do my work.  I will miss this hike, the peering step out to the edge, the smell of the pine as I lean in close and work the rope around the trunk.

Soon, very soon, I think, I won't make these hikes at all.

But not today.

I triple check every link in the chain and rap down over the short face to the ledge, then add a bit of line to one side of my rappel and continue down over the roof to the anchors.

Swing in close, clip in with an adjustable daisy, back that up with a second runner on the other anchor. Clio the long side of the the rappel line into the biners on the anchor and pull rope from the long side until the tail comes off of the ground.   Tie a keeper overhand knot in the rope to keep it from feeding back and begin slowly pulling the rope leading up to the original rappel tree, pausing to remove the knot from the end, then once again curling in against the anchors as the end whips down, bringing a shower of twigs and pine needles but, thankfully, no rocks.

Knot the end and drop to the base, clip into and double check rap system, and down we go to the scene of last weekend's rap-bolting epic. The hole where the traitor bit sheared off taunts me as I set a nasty hook behind some crusty rock in a horizontal and ease in close, like a bomb disposal expert on an IED.

Nothing blows, and three minutes later I making dust and noise as the Bosch punches another hole into the limestone.

Another hour of drilling, cleaning, contemplation and rappel sees me back on the ground with six bolts on the line. Andrew Suter, Corey McKenzie and their whitewater companion Alise (sp?) arrive as I shed gear and we spend a few minutes saying hello before they go in search of Entranc Walls fun and I wander off in search of my wife, fishing the South Branch as eagles soar above us.

The Punisher is back in the field, Miss Cindy is somewhere wrangling trout, God is in his Heaven and, for just this one moment, all is right with the world.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Halloween- Trail Daze #10

Thanks so very much to Tyler Hall and Gray C, Shane and Chris Egress,Josiah WeeksScott DrummondNicholas Kurland and Cindy Gray for braving temperatures in the 30's, overcast skies, cold winds and drizzle to make Saturday another in a series of incredible Trail Daze events.

In a matter of hours, this crew built a new switchback to reduce impact on a beautiful old oak tree, removed all traces of the older trail, and did an amazing job of shoring up the trail and stabilizing the belay below Superman.

Strategy session

(L to R) Scott Drummond, Nick Kurland and Chris Egress dig in.

Josiah sez: No gluten or dairy, just CAFFEINE!!!

When the work was done, the rock wranglers descended to inhale chicken pasta salad, power gels and chocolate, then, despite the occasional shower of rain, they dragged out packs and headed back up their freshly-laid trail to tear up some routes.

Nick Kurland and friend Eric worked their way methodically across the wall, dispatching my routes Still Laughing (5.10) and Reaching Conclusions (5.10). After several hangs and combinations of moves, they sent Ryan Eubank's Golden Horseshoe (5.10+) and fought through Fisher's Hunter's Moon (5.10+).  Josiah Weeks, fresh back from the Red River Gorge, warmed up on the great moderate Second Rule with mountain bike madman Scott Drummond on belay , while Tyler Hall and Chris Egress battled the powerful, hard-to-read start of Mike Fisher's La Machina.  

Nick Kurland snaps for the ledge on Golden Horseshoe, one of the great 5.10s to be found at The Reach, Reed's Creek

Tyler Hall rolls through the lower cruxes of Hunter's Moon

Chris Egress cranks through the roof on La Machina

Leaving the youngsters to shred, I collected my wife, relaxing with some friends who actually live above the crag, and we headed off to prepare for a night at Thorn Springs Campground.

We chowed pizza and Halloween candy, talked over issues of the day and assorted trivia of global importance, sipped tasty adult carbohydrate replacement beverages and handed out T-shirts to all our volunteers.

The day's work and play finally caught up with us all around 10 p.m. Good nights were made and we hit the racks.

Cindy rose early to begin frying bacon and making mounds of oatmeal pancakes, and I eyed snow pellets falling from rolling skies as I summoned the survivors to breakfast.

Crispy bacon, pancakes, Sunny D and French press coffee: the Trail Daze crew relaxes post breakfast (courtesy of PHAR/UP and Cindy Gray) in Cabin 51, Thorn Spring Campground

Shane Egress: a force of nature

The South Branch of the Potomac glitters and shines in the autumn sun.

Interesting fact- we have now held EIGHT more local trail work events than the corporate-funded Access Fund, and almost all of our events were funded out-of-pocket or by donations fromsmall companies and local climbers... as opposed to shilling the only automobile without a hybrid or cams made in China.

Outside of Seneca, the two local events in which the Access Fund did (belatedly) participate were created, organized and seen to completion by a non-member.... can you guess who?

PHAR/UP: local climbers making a real difference. 

Being part of the solution, instead of the problem, for over a decade.

Contact us today for information on Trail Daze, local crags and the Smoke Hole Shuttle Service: (304) 668-2856; via email: phar.up.2014@gmail.com

Friday, October 31, 2014


A long month and ten days of work and travel, prepping for our Halloween Trail Daze and, this weekend, moving households, right in the middle of those event preparations.
In addition, Owlfeather Productions LLC is now a licensed business, new T-shirts and other goodies are in, and we've moved forward with starting a shuttle service for Reed's Creek, Smoke Hole, Dolly Sods and other local points of activity or interest, with service to Franklin, Seneca Rocks and Petersburg, WV.
Crazy whirlwind world, lots going on, but in the midst, I'd like to take a breath and say:
The new guides are inbound!  
We'll be starting to mail them out within the next two weeks or so, so watch your mailboxes, and watch this page for the announcement of where and when we will have the release event! 
 Thanks to you all for your support and patience- it's been great getting to meet some of you, "out and about", and I look forward to seeing more of you once you have the guides in hand. 
New route info, corrections and addendum items will be added to a " Guide Corrections and Updates" page on this site.
Have a great All Hallow's Eve, 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Another Gypsy Ramble

Out on a wet morning for a short hike along the North Fork Trail from the FS 79 campsite above Shreve's Store and Sanctuary.

Double Standard, Anyone?

The following is a post from the Mid-Atlantic Climbers' Coalition webpage, regarding access at the Catoctin Mountain Park, which was recently closed to bouldering:

“We are asking that climbers observe these restrictions to aid in our efforts. Demonstrating responsibility as a climbing community at this time will help make our case as we work to open up access in the future.”

How is it that these same principles of respect and responsibility do not seem to apply to the private property and crags of Franklin in WV, MACC?  You know, where you and your members have been climbing on private property without permission for years and where you continue to walk right past NEW, signed “No TRESPASSING” signs?
Double standard, anyone?
Was any portion of the recent Seneca Rocks Chilifest used to alert and inform climbers regarding this access issue?
How about Bridge (or, as I like to call it, "Let's all go shit in the woods at New River") Day?  Any round-table discussions there, between draining brews, updating your Facebook pages and slacklining, after spending your day trying to find parking and convincing yourself that you are actually observing LNT principles?
If so, there is no word of that on any of your websites.
If the Access Fund can't get the job done with the people it has in place, maybe it's time to replace those people with candidates who are both motivated and competent.
And maybe it's time for all those Access Fund members to start admitting that they really don't give a damn.
After all, they pay good money every year to be told what they should care about, and what isn't important.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Hard Bark 2014

This is how it is.

I'm known to the climbing community as a curmudgeon; a grouchy bastard who seems to have little or nothing good to say about anything.  I’m tired and sore from about fifty-plus years of fairly adventuresome and demanding life, thirty-something of which have been spent becoming the the best carpenter and craftsman I could, working my way up from jackhammer-lugging grunt and rake operator to a foreman, eventually a superintendent, and working as a concert and theatrical rigger.  

During roughly the same period, I was doing everything I could to become the most versatile, well-rounded, impact-conscious, proactive rock climber I could possibly be. I learned orienteering and survival skills, was certified as an EMT and qualified as Field Team Member for Search and Rescue.

I came up during the ecological awakening of the late 60s and early 70s, and even without the massive sea-change of those times, environmentalism meant much more to a kid whose grandparents lived right out there, in the country, instead of in some suburban landscaper's dream.

You see, my people are the people who called the Skyline Drive their back yard before the country called it a destination. We're the people working those little stands in New England where our family farms used to be, before taxation without representation and tourists who couldn't give a damn about more than their itinerary plowed that legacy into the ground under the newest rest area strip mall in the name of progressive thinking.

We've been cleaning up behind the latest popular movement for about as long as you folks have been hiring other people to do that, building the roads you drive in on, establishing all those quaint communities whose fossilized remains you love to hike through without ever really seeing the sad descendants of the original settlers going about the lives your endless appetites have left behind.

All that aside, the forests are my first love, since long before puberty took hold of my endocrine system or Miss Cindy walked into my life like a sunlit thunderbolt.  I love the mountains and I revere the gifts we have been given, I believe, by a benevolent if sometimes inexplicable universe. It is and always has been my duty and my devotion to give back to the places that have cradled my broken soul.

So, for most of the past three decades, no matter how broke or exhausted or beat-up I was from days and sometimes weeks of brutal labor and long hours, I spent my free time looking for, finding, developing and (hopefully) sending new lines interspersed with sessions of repairing trail and picking up trash.

I’m further from the beginning of my climbing career than the end. 

And I am determined to make an impact on the future, beyond the lines I will leave behind and the trails I have built.  

My climbing partner, Doctor Goodwack, would say that I'm wasting my time. He might be right. He'd say that you're all worthless and weak, and that the ones of you that aren't are either too comfortable, too old and beat down, or too young and stupid to waste time or rope on.

He's got a lot of hard bark on him.  Hell, truth is, since I wrote this little piece the first time, I’ve grown an awful lot of hard bark myself; not from any one great wound, but from a thousand cuts of daily indifference, apathy and oblivion, spread out over the years.  

Some days, I doubt climbing, and certainly the mountains and forests, the wild places in which the finest climbs live, will survive in any recognizable form. 

But I still hope that we’re wrong. 

I'm betting on it, in fact, that's why I'm sitting here typing on a laptop, tossing out messages in a bottle to a generation that mostly doesn’t know or give a damn who I might be, instead of sipping coffee or cold brews or heading off on another adventure with the lovely brunette who calls me her husband.

Because I want you to know that I feel you out there; sitting on a bus, or a train, or in some airport lobby or library, at your desk or table or in your car, where ever, picking idly at your skinned knees or gobied hands while you read this, feeling the aches, or the Hunger, when there are no wounds, no aches.

So many of you have reached out through emails and phone calls, online messages and at the crags, over the years.  The response on Kickstarter was amazing and inspiring, a reminder of an energy I thought was lost.

Unimaginable as it may seem, I was one of you once, before all these miles and memories, these scars, all these years... all this hard bark.

I know you, because I was you.

I know that, even with this tide of pushing for high numbers and press attention, trying to milk bucks or swag or just a moment in the sun out of this fickle, pointless, incredible obsession, there are dreamers out there, dreamers who dream not with their eyes shut, in their beds, but with them open, in the deep woods, on the big stone, or some tiny, unknown little chunk of rock lost deep in the forest. I think about you, sometimes, while I’m hanging there on hooks, gingerly pulling up the drill while flakes fall away, or working through some demanding sequence between clips, or laying hundreds of feet of trail for hours, piling stone and moving dirt, cutting and placing logs, marking the way.

And as hard as it may be to believe this, as much as I chew on you and rage at you and smash at the feet of your sacred cows, I actually believe in you, from all these many years down the road beyond my own folly, when the convenience of sheer numbers makes it easy to forget being young and proud, headstrong and reckless, hungry and open. 

Even with all the blah, blah, blah that makes up most of the magazines, ezines and forum space these days, I can feel you there, just the other side of the page, dreaming of long, clean lines, of hard, steep moves, or of just clipping that next bolt, someday.

You hear the green song while everyone else is racing down the trail, hell-bent for leather to be first. You know the peace of being last on the trail, and the serenity of that first moment, alone at a new belay, with a new climb behind you still ringing in your soul; a rope's length above your partner and the world and light-years from all the crap that clogs the gears and weighs you down.

And you're doing incredible things. 

You climb sooner, faster, stronger, and better than we ever did, and you genuinely seem to be trying to rediscover (or at least reinvent) community and true love for each other. You're pushing into the big hills and the hard numbers routinely, and that's one of the things that stir me to the keyboard. For all my hard bark, and despite the likelihood that few of you will give enough of a shit about what an old climber thinks about anything to give this a second‘s glance.

So enough preamble, I guess we're gonna dance or fight, one of the two, so we might as well get it on.

You're fallin' down on the job. You crank hard and you dress really cool but you're sloppy and careless and self-centered to a fault even in this narcissistic sport.

(And no, this is not that "When I was your age we walked ten miles to school through burning hail, uphill both ways, and when we got home they beat us and killed us," crap... this is me, talking to you. Thanks for your time... I won't keep you much longer, I swear...)

Facts is facts, and the fact is that we did (and still do) put up the new routes, keep what few animals we ever had about in close check, and manage to not only build but routinely maintain the trail system at several crags, for years. Decades, even...

All while holding down jobs requiring at least forty hours per week (in those days I averaged sixty-plus) and commuting at least an hour each way (in my case two and a half), and tending to all the sundry crap that life will try to tack on you in the years between your age and mine.

You buy crap guidebooks. Too many members of the climbing press have been printing minimal information and sending the masses hither and yon for years now, creating impact and land issues and cutting and pasting the same mealy-mouthed obligatory crap from rip-off to rip-off. Leave no trace... unless it's on a crag located on delicate access land that no one bothers to mention. Respect the earth, but not the climbers whose work they are stealing to make money we never see a dime of. 

Ask the people at the crag who put up the lines. If they can't tell you, find someone who can.

Any guidebook that doesn't list first ascentionists is crap.  Period.

You want a mini-guide, call it that... but don't leave out the history of the routes and crag to avoid admitting that you stole the info instead of meeting the people and finding out their stories.

It's your history... and you're letting it slip away. People like me (and even a few nice ones, as well) are out there putting up lines, building trails, carving out crags you'll never hear about. Because they've seen what happens.

At Franklin. At Hidden Rocks. At Muir Valley and Joe’s Boulders, Oak Creek Overlook, Paradise Forks, Jack's, the Supes.

The word goes out and people come, regardless of how many cars are there when they arrive, because they just gotta be on the scene. Gear left on projects gets stolen, and projects get worked with the red tags still dangling.

And those who came for something that they cannot name pack their gear and move on to the next lost corner, in search of something that exists in moments of fear and wonder, a song that speaks in silence and the sound of the river, a calligraphy of shadows and stone.

We're mostly working class citizens who spend hundreds of hours and thousands of hard-earned bucks (yes, thousands... priced a new rack, rope, battery drill, aid gear, and health insurance policy lately?) over the course of decades.

We put time and love, sweat and blood into the routes that climbing shop hard persons routinely talk crap on, downgrade, and misname. Which is like having one of your relatives repeatedly call you by the wrong name at a family picnic... after a while, that crap kinda gets on your nerves.

That is why I'm here, trying to keep a little of the beta stream unpolluted and complete, and potentially wasting an hour I’ll never get back to make a fool of myself, given my long and checkered past of internet feuds and hostilities, shouting at an invisible audience scattered miles and years away from me in time and space.

So what?  

I’ve wasted more time on lines that didn’t go and partners that didn’t show.  

For what it's worth;

Get involved. Ask questions. Introduce yourself to climbers you don't know... who knows, you might meet someone who put up the routes that you love. Climb with new people. Go to Park Service meetings and Access Fund Rendezvous, and do more while you are there than get autographs and beta to the latest super-secret, cutting edge destination.  Find out what they are fighting, where, how they are organizing, what is a real issue and what works in resolving those issues. They are your crags, and your responsibility.

Dig into the stories you aren’t hearing or reading about.  If your dollars support the big organizations, your voice needs to one of those to direct its course.  We've left you a legacy... the same one the generation just before left to us. We haven’t done the best by you, by any means, and out government has done less for all of us, to an even greater degree. 

Of course, the last generation didn't collect a tax from every dime you earn, but your dear Uncle Sam does, without fail.  Now is your time to prove yourselves worthy, to claim your birthright.  Ask hard questions, and accept no easy answers from the people and agencies that run your public lands, the people who lease away your old growth forests and whose quest for insuring gigantic corporate profits have trumped their mission to preserve our unique ecology and irreplaceable history, as well as their responsibility to local communities and their economies.  

There are good rangers and workers in the system, few and far between as they are. Find the good souls out there in that incredible juggernaut of a system and do what you can to sidestep the bureaucracy and incompetence to make things happen. 

Before you get together over latte’s and congratulate each other for saving an acre of grid-bolted sport climbing or gruesomely overhanging boulders back here in the east, remember that there are still battles to fight. Crags to save, destruction to halt.

Multinational corporations in the Dripping Springs Mountains of Arizona have unblinkingly confirmed their plans for the eventual, inevitable destruction of Apache Leap, the bouldering heaven of Oak Flats and sport mecca of Queen Creek, the incredible spires and walls of Devil’s Canyon, and the long-term vitality and economy of nearby towns. Tonto National Forest is fighting this with all the effort a broke whore expends to fight off a drunken college boy with ready cash.

This land has been privately owned under the protections of the original Mining Act, while across the United States far less historically-significant landmarks have been taken from families to create public lands. Isn’t it time for the government to reclaim it from foreign corporations with no goal of preservation in one of the most ecologically sensitive areas in America?

The destruction predicted is based on mining practices that would be illegal for an American corporation operating on American soil.  They are quite simply the most destructive way possible to mine the region.  The proposed land swap and freeway development (meaning even further ecological mayhem and denied access), both intended to mask the extent of the destruction, are supported by several state and Congressional representatives, all invoking the sacred cows of jobs and economic development (aka more taxes to play with during their careers.)

This is huge, folks.  Don’t just post this on Facebook or send a check.  Contact Congress, kick-start the Access Fund, scream at the Sierra Club and the American Alpine Club, then get out, picket, chain yourself to some equipment or a gate, get arrested, whatever it takes to drawn the public’s attention and get involved in the fight. 

They are our crags and our lands. Our heritage and legacy.

Our responsibility. 

It starts with the little things.

There is a relatively small but enormously popular crag on private land at the edge of Franklin, West Virginia that is sliding away into eroded oblivion as I sit here typing; a place where Access Fund members have been bringing their dogs and friends and climbing for over 20 years.  

But it wasn't Access Fund members who organized or paid for the first Franklin Trail Daze, it was a non-member, something that has been true for all but one of the trail work events we held there from 2007 through 2010.

It wasn't the Access Fund's Regional Coordinator who reached out from the distant city of Seneca Rocks to contact those landowners, but a working carpenter who climbed there on the weekends and shopped at Kemper's Grocery, the tiny store at the end of the road leading to the crag.

Because it doesn't take a title, or the ability to climb 5.12; it takes the willingness to ask and listen, to see beyond your prejudices and the online resume.

In an age when climbers have no problem driving into Mexico or the ends of the earth and interacting with the locals, this small family business offered cold beer, snacks, and a window into the local community, and a contact point with the landowners.

Climbers who had been to Thailand and braved the highway banditos of the Sonoran desert, their eco-vehicles proudly displaying "Shop Local, Think Sam's Club", stayed away in droves. 

"That place looked sketchy." I was told.

I've been to Mexico, the bad side of Juarez and some places that made that look like suburbia, and I can tell you that Kemper's didn't hold a candle to what real "sketchy" looks like.

In fact, I never remember seeing very many other local climbers in the store at all, although it was always clean and the people were always friendly. Bob was a mechanical genius at repair, and Shirley kept some of the nicest plants to be found outside of a professional greenhouse.

But even locals had come under the spell of convenience and "organic farming", loading up at "farmers' markets" dominated by commercial greenhouses, shopping for bulk discounts at package stores, staying in campgrounds run by out-of-state concessionaires and in general exploiting every resource of the location without the need to spend a dime at local businesses.

Those businesses watched with a sort of detached calm as the city folks poured by, never spending a penny more than they had to in order to use the restrooms or get in out of the rain; demanding, condescending, self-centered, entitled, unconcerned and unaware of the people they walked right over in their quest for fun.

They did their best to help and please people who came uninvited to walk across their lands, who laughed at them and ridiculed the only life the people of the mountains were allowed, when wealth flowed away, always away from the mountain state.

Kemper's is gone now, just another place that has finally been ignored to death by the masses of climbers who have no clue that these are the people who actually owned a portion of the land on which they were trespassing.

Land trades hands, property lines are redrawn and the advocates and community have no clue.

There's a lot of talk about why the Access Fund members and administrators, the much-ballyhooed Jeep Discount Sales and Conservation Team and all those headline-happy affiliates can't do trail work on private land, despite having no problem climbing there or sending other people to do so by the carload.

But there is no whisper of an explanation why those heavily-funded paragons of impact control can't work on the trails that cross public lands.

After all, despite being home to any number of AMGA certified professionals who profess LNT principles and espouse green living lifestyles, it isn't the members of the Access Fund that maintain trails right over the hill in Seneca Rocks.

And it hasn't been the Access Fund out here, on the ground, replacing anchors and rebuilding the trails at Franklin, Reed's, and throughout Smoke Hole for the last twenty years.

Maybe they just don't know how to start.

Let me help you, fellas... I've done this sort of thing before.

(After all, it wasn't until after I started writing about traveling the United States doing trail work that you created your Conservation Teams, was it?)

It's simple;

If you move two stones on the trail and pick up two pieces of trash every time you go climbing, and if all your friends do too, you'll be amazed at what you can do in just a month. 

Don't just seek to empower climbers, but widen your focus; support and reach out to the people in the communities surrounding the climbing areas, as well.  Aren't they as worthy of your compassion and support as any war or drought or storm refugee in another land?

Work to make the climbing community a part of the larger community in which we travel and play while others live and work. Make sure the leaders of your advocacy groups lead by example; finding, contacting, and then respecting the rights and wishes of landowners, informing their membership of issues and decisions, ALL of the issues and decisions.

If the Coordinators don't coordinate and the Presidents don't make decisions, get rid of them and find someone who will.

If you can't find anyone, try taking it on yourself. 

And then they really will be "your" crags, because you're not just visiting, anymore... you're making all of it a part of you, and becoming part of it all.

It's not brain surgery or astrophysics.  I mean, even Mike Gray can figure it out.

Okay.... 'nuff said.  I want to thank you for your time, and your love of the sport I also love so very much. 

Be strong, stand proud, question everything, try everything, give lots of hugs, take lots of pictures, keep a journal, pull hard and don't be afraid to fall, in life or on the stone. 

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Poison Fruit

Got to Franklin today to find three new, signed "NO Hunting or TRESPASSING" signs.

They haven't put up a new sign in the last decade, but after five years of no action from the AF/MACC- voila! Not only new signs, but signs with the name of a corporation, not a family, on them.  

Deja vu, anyone?

Congratulations, Access Fund and Mid-Atlantic Climbers Coalition- your policy of "don't ask, don't tell, don't stop climbing there but don't work on the trails" seems to be bearing the poison fruit I predicted.

You mothers must be very proud.... 

Start all the educational programs you want (with a company that makes its cams in China), partner with macho Jeep (the only car manufacturer that doesn't have a successful hybrid), do your best to spin control this... your people are pissing away more access than even you can buy, every hour of every day.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

'Tis the Season, Again

Please remember that hunting season has begun in West Virginia.  Muzzle loaders/black powder and bow seasons begin or have already commenced this month.

It was as much through hunting as through hiking that I discovered the forest, first felt wonder and reverence for that singing green shadow as a tween becoming a young man.

Hunting, done wisely and well, is necessary in today's ecosystem, as the predators who once filled this niche slowly recede into memory, still surviving in a few open ranges and preserves in the west.  Our own eastern wolf is gone, the cougar and mountain cats of legend hunted to near-mythic status, bobcats ranging in small packs in only the most desolate of spots, and bear have been chased down to small, sleek creatures half the size of their ancestors, who eat more berries than meat.

In short, white tail deer have few or no natural predators, and as a consequence, the tasty varmints are everywhere.  Because West Virginia is crisscrossed by roads frequented by logging trucks, working parents and NASCAR fans, more deer (and occasionally people) die from auto injuries than gunfire or arrow. Living in West Virginia requires special insurance due to the number of deer damage claims.

I grew up with a great generation of hunters and we saw the loud, drunken camps, the idiots and the dangerous morons who would leave a waste stream a mile wide through Eden itself. For every one of those examples, I knew a dozen conscientious hunters who left little save bloodstains and footprints, who ate all but the bones and hide, and used most of both.

Hunting is a tradition that far predates our nation, and is one of the cornerstone principles for the foundation of the National Forests. Venison is both delicious and naturally low fat, with none of the toxins or horrors associated with agribusiness "farming" of beef and poultry.

If all works out well, I'll be one of the silent invisible majority who come, do their thing, and vanish without a trace, in just a few weeks.

As ever, and in anything, what is done well, no one remembers, what is done wrong, no one forgets. Not all hunters leave a gut pile strewn with beer cans and cigarette butts at a pullout on a public road.

Please wear bright colors when you head out into our national forests, from now until January.

Remember that Franklin Gorge is private property, and stay off the top of the cliffs.

No matter where you climb, try to keep your pets close or leave them at home, make enough noise to make yourself known, maybe say hello, wish them good luck, and share the forest with folks who actually pay, in some cases, hundreds of dollars in permits and fees, and train just as rigorously as any climber, who spend as much if not more than we do on gear, just to use our public lands for whatever time they can snatch from work and life, four months out of every year.

So What's Up with the Guide and PHAR/UP?

Well, let me tell you...

PHAR/UP supplied local climbers with a grant of 50 Fixe hangers, 5-piece bolts and ring anchors for upgrade of existing anchors and new route development at Old House, in the Lower Canyon. Those same area climbers are currently working towards a grant for trails development and human waste disposal at this remote crag.

Last week, I met with Julie Fosbender, Troy Waszchy and Brandon Olinger of the Monongahela National Forest's Cheat-Potomac Ranger District, to talk about the upcoming guide and impacts.  We visited Long Branch and the Guide Wall, talked about the private property hodgepodge (the trail to the Guide Walls is on private land, the developed routes are not, the section between the developed walls is private, as is the top). We talked about the impact of other user groups like fishermen and hunters, as well as the global importance of Smoke Hole Canyon from an environmental perspective.

We drove out to Reed's Creek, were the folks from the MNF were understandably impressed with the amateur efforts of a college group from Vermont, a score of local climbers, a disabled homemaker and one toothless old curmudgeon, working without support from any national organization.

At this point, we have a great relationship with these folks.  They are excited to see climbing expanding in the forest, since climbers are perceived to be more environmentally active and aware. Our efforts to mitigate impact while respecting local landowners has given them a great example of how climbing can be.

If I sound just a bit proud, it comes from the days of paper chasing and the hundreds of phone calls it took to get here; building trails as steadily as I developed routes, maintaining a conversation with the National Forest and the landowners who were still willing to talk to climbers, building bridges to the community even as I bash away at the clay feet of their advocates and idols.

I'm discussing distribution with the publisher, and the feedback we've had from the folks who have seen the sample guide has been nothing but positive.

We're working on new designs and ironing out some wrinkles (no pun intended) in our T-shirt production and distribution, which supports a small local start-up.  Some of our Kickstarters have already seen the first efforts, if you have not, rest assured... more will be making their way to your doors in the coming days.

Registration for Hallowe'en Trail Daze continues... register before 9/30 by sending me an email at wvmgray@gmail.com

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Help us Save Blair Mountain!

Yo, climbers!

Too many mountains (over 450 of them and counting) have been erased from the landscape of West Virginia and the surrounding Appalachian States.

Now that process threatens a mountain that stands for so much more, Blair Mountain.

How would you pay tribute to a place that changed the course of the labor movement forever? 

We stand at a fork in the road where we can either protect the West Virginia mountain where coal miners fought for their right to unionize, after enduring years of abuse at the hands of both law and coal thugs. Fragmentation bombs were dropped on miners, after machine guns were used to strafe their families and homes from a flatbed railroad car.

We can remember the struggle of these people to simply be treated like human beings, and protect the mountain that stands as a monument to their fight and sacrifices.

Or we can allow Big Coal to blow the top off Blair Mountain in exchange for a simple plaque.

A plaque would not replace Yorktown, or Gettysburg.

And all the plaques on earth cannot replace one mountain.

Tell the Army Corps of Engineers that a plaque won't do. Blair Mountain is an important part of our history and deserves to be off limits to mountain top removal mining.

Find out more and send your message here: http://action.sierraclub.org/ProtectBlairMtn